Inter v Juventus
Serie A Week 7 – Sunday, 6th October – 19:45 GMT – San Siro
The lads arrive to the monumental clash against Inter in pretty good shape as the improvement continued in the last two matches. They were able to win, which is obviously what matters the most, shut out the opponents, which is neat since clean sheets have not been very frequent, and seal the deal early, another element they had struggled with, in the last two games. Now it is time to confirm that against one of the main competitors in the first real top match in Serie A, as the Napoli one came too early to be really meaningful. The result will determine who the boss and the team to beat is, at least in the first portion of the season.
One of the more encouraging signs is that no one has really been left behind and also those who do not see the field consistently still turn good shifts in when called upon, for instance Federico Bernardeschi. The rotation has not led to any disgruntlement, at least that we know of. The group has been managed pretty well and winning obviously always help.
The back-line has tightened it up and the chemistry between Leonardo Bonucci and Matthijs De Ligt is growing by the day and the veteran seems to be enjoying his role as the leader, as he was not as tidy, especially early, last season. Then it is only a matter of time for the Dutch starlet to fully show his worth and how he fares here will be pretty telling.
There was some scepticism about Juan Cuadrado, but he has become a terrific right back to the point that it is not a sure thing that Danilo will be able to get his job back when healthy. He is able to make up for his shortcomings with a great amount of energy, and he is always the fizziest player on the pitch. If that holds, and he continues to grow into the role, he will be a plus and the fullback position will no longer be a problem, considering that Mattia De Sciglio and Danilo can both play on the left flank, and we would be back to the norm of having four on the roster.
Everybody seems to have his place in 4-3-1-2 and the one that had to make the biggest adjustment, Cristiano Ronaldo, actually benefited from it as well, because he has more freedom to roam, since the two strikers have non-existent defensive assignments, and his teammates have been able to find him with great regularity. It is also a more streamlined task for the midfield, as the left box-to-box does not have to slide to the flank that often. We will see what will happen when Douglas Costa is back, but that is a good problem to have and it is a matter for another time.
Having somebody between the line is intrinsically bothersome for the opponents, because either they have a very defensive-minded pivot that can take care of him, or one of the centre-backs has to come up to mark him and that can open up some lanes. If then the no.10 is both a quality passer and a decent finisher, good stuff is going to happen.
Even though they are completely different players, the attack does not seem to skip a beat either with Paulo Dybala or Gonzalo Higuain: the latter is a craftier finisher, the former adds some pizazz, and they will continue to alternate and is the biggest doubt in this week’s XI.
4-3-1-2: Szczesny; Cuadrado, Bonucci, De Ligt, Sandro; Khedira, Pjanic, Matuidi; Ramsey; Higuain, Ronaldo.
Costa (thigh), Chiellini (knee), Danilo (thigh), De Sciglio (thigh), Perin (shoulder), Pjaca (knee).
Inter have managed to win in all kinds of fashions so far: outplaying opponents (Lecce and Milan), nipping them (Udinese and Lazio) and responding well to adversities (Cagliari and Sampdoria). They have not had the same level of success in Champions League, but they had a convincing display at Camp Nou on Wednesday before Barcelona decided to show up. It took them no time to comply to the new coach’s demands and for the newcomers to settle in, which is their most impressive feat considering how other clubs are faring in that regard.
You can see the imprints of both Giuseppe Marotta and Antonio Conte in the way the roster was constructed and in how they play. The executive put his foot down and got rid of all the players, even headliners, that had some behavioural issues and could create a fuss in the locker room such as Mauro Icardi, Ivan Perisic and Radja Nainggolan, even perhaps at the cost of losing some money on their price tags. They all left on loan and will know only next summer how much they will fetch, but the options for Icardi and Perisic are not lofty.
It translated in a no-nonsense squad with great character that has taken after the manager. You can see the official’s beliefs also in the fact that they have poached some of the best Italian talents, as he is one to do, in Nicolò Barella and Stefano Sensi, and that contributes to giving them a much more tenacious and workmanlike team compared to previous seasons.
One of the biggest ‘what ifs?’ of the summer concerns Romelu Lukaku, who might have moved to Turin if Juventus struck a deal with Manchester United, involving Paulo Dybala and/or Mario Mandzukic. I personally prefer Dybala, but the big Belgian would have worked well next to Cristiano and surely did not deserve to be scorned like the Bianconeri fans did while the negotiation was ongoing. His massive frame combined with above-average quickness is a lot to deal with for defenders: he has already hit the net three times and always serves as a giant hub for them upfront. He missed the Barcelona clash with muscle fatigue but there are not many doubts about his availability on Sunday night. He will partner with Lautaro Martinez, who is always electric but has yet to fulfil his entire potential as a scorer. Matteo Politano has been a nice weapon off the bench centrally thanks to his explosiveness.
It is hard to find something that has not worked for them so far: Samir Handanovic is squarely among the top goalkeepers in the world, they have conceded the fewest goals in the League thanks to a star-studded back-line, which was already good last year and added Diego Godin, and the midfield has been money in both phases. Even though it is less renowned, their flank game is strong and all the attackers have been able to contribute in their own right. Juventus have struggled against enemies that play with width and 3-5-2 can create some issues, especially because both wing-backs are okay crossers and know how to score, so this element will require an extra level of attention.
The biggest surprise has been Sensi, who was certainly intriguing at Sassuolo, but immediately brought his game to a whole another level after joining, properly pulling the strings with astonishing elegance and becoming a menace in the final third, both finishing and assisting. Nicolò Barella had a slower start but he too is commencing to display the motor and quality that made him a coveted asset at Cagliari. Marcelo Brozovic is having more consistency and more opportunities to shoot and already capitalized on that.
They might not have the most appealing style, but they are extremely solid and perform with great intensity and have three or four difference makers up front that do not need much room to deliver. It is a simple design, but it works with high efficiency. Even in a hostile environment, Juventus might have the opportunity to control the possession and it will be interesting to see whether they will decide to take it, and be exposed to their quick fast-break like Barcelona were, or will decide to wait for the opponents to play their hand. It could turn into a chess match.
3-5-2: Handanovic; Godin, De Vrij, Skriniar; D’Ambrosio, Barella, Brozovic, Sensi, Asamoah; Lukaku, Martinez.